This would not be the first time something hasn't lived up to its billing. Two great authors, a very cool title...possibly borrowed, or. So it was with a sense of expectation I waited the arrival of " Jesus Manifesto." If you have been indoctrinated into the Christian culture this book will not reveal anything you don't already know. That's not a bad thing, reminders as to the fundamentals of faith are always worth revisiting. The book reaffirms the centrality of Jesus to the Christian faith. In many cases the church has lost its anchor in that truth and drifts, tossed around by what ever it can attach itself for some kind of relevance. Len Sweet and Frank Viola remind us constantly that Christianity is not a religion lived out by principles, but that it is a " living faith " in which Jesus dwells within us. We live faith out of that mysterious truth, and reality.
My problem is how the Jesus Manifesto is presented. More than a manifesto, it is an ultimatum as to a belief in a theological formulation presented by the authors. All through the book I was challenged by the thought of, " if I don't believe exactly what these guys believe, I'm not in." Does one subscribe to all of their manifesto, or bits and pieces?
And if your really looking at the centrality of Jesus as to faithful living, then your vision of Jesus should be uncompromisingly clear. I am in no way doubting the supremacy of Jesus, but when you pluck him from the messiness of the gospels it creates a sterile one dimensional Jesus.
In there constant reminder of being " In " Christ, the present reality that now Jesus dwells with in you. We live out of that truth, that we can live our lives as Jesus. Am I correct, or am I missing something? If this is the central pinning of faith...how is it " lived out " in the context of the Kingdom now, and God's passion for Justice and Mercy. How is the Manifesto lived out in the radical scandalous redemptive imagination of God's grace as seen in Jesus.
By the time I came to the closing paragraphs of the book I was left with the Manifesto being nothing more than correct belief...that right belief was for important the right living. I read the gospels time and time again, and I am constantly confronted with a Jesus that is far more concerned with a faith lived out. He didn't rent some classroom space in the local temple where he taught doctrine and theology about himself. He immersed them into the brokenness of life where they discovered God's passion for grace, justice and mercy. They discovered that in Jesus is the fullness of God, the redemptive imagination of God come to life...in word, and action. This book seems to minimize this reality, with statements like this;
" the social and political reform of the world through the powers than be has never been the agenda of the body of Christ. Caesar sought to change the hearts of men by laws and institutions. Jesus changes the hearts of men and women and brings them into a new society, the church...pg 111 "
I wonder if Jesus had spent three years in a classroom of the disciples taking notes, power point presentations, quizzes and final exams if they would have discovered the " real " Jesus. I don't think you can know Jesus unless you jump overboard into the ocean of humanity, and follow him through the ebb and flow of "all " life...not just "in" the church.
Can there be faith with out living it out. This " Christ with in ", can we know " him " without letting him live our lives. It seems to me, the disciples always seemed to discover their greatest reality of Jesus through the thin broken windows of life...a woman at a well, a prostitute washing his feet with tears, eating with sinners, rubbing spit and mud in a blind mans eyes, washing feet...and listening to wild scandalously beautiful stories about God's Kingdom.
We can only discover the living Christ looking and living through the same broken window. If faith is reduced to mere belief, it will always be reduced to something that needs to be defended instead of lived.
In the end what really bothered me about Jesus Manifesto was the authors insistence that so many theological tensions are not complex relationships between interpretations and implications, there is no living in between...it's all reduced to a zero-sum game. You can teach on how to live by faith, wrestling out the tensions of living out the reality of the parables in everyday life, or you can teach Christ, but not both.( page 13 ) For the authors...it is teach " Christ " only.
You can learn theology, wrestling out its truths in everyday living, or you can worship " Christ ", but not both.( page 19 ) For the authors...it is worship " Christ " only. You can strive to imitate Jesus in living out your faith, or you can invite " Christ " to indwell in you, but not both. ( page 68 ). For the authors...it is the indwelling " Christ ", but it is nothing more than downloading theological truths. You can be interested in " causes ", or the praxis of faith, or worship " Christ ", but not both. For the authors it is the ritual, the act of worship that trumps praxis.
In the end it becomes glaringly clear that excessive focus on any of these things would reduce ones Christianity to a pious veneer, a top coat of exterior paint to one's life.
I'm reminded in the end of the story of the transfiguration, the disciples see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah and the urge to build something static, something they could always come back to and worship. I find in the gospels little evidence of Jesus concern that the disciples should worship him. In the end, after three years with the disciples, time is running out in the upper room. More than anything the Master must make it clear what faith is all about. So he washes there feet, and tells them to do like wise. It really is summed up by loving God with all your heart, soul and strength...and to love your neighbor. There, is the tension of worship and practice. They are inseparable. Sadly this is what Jesus Manifesto has tried to do...taking faith out of the context of life, and removing Jesus from his humanness.
Is the book worth reading, yes. But beware, it presents only one dimension of Jesus, and one dimension of faith.
In the light of my review, a great article in the National Catholic Reporter, Claiborne and Rohr, " Uninformed Future ", In Search of the Emerging Church.